When the 2016 campaign began, the only person among Donald Trump's five children with a high public profile was his daughter Ivanka, who has her own celebrity brand just like her father. The two older Trump sons were unknown to the general public, but they made a good first impression when the whole family appeared on a CNN family special. They are all so attractive and glamorous that many people came to believe the family was Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's best feature.
Indeed, it was said that the fact he had raised such an admirable family spoke so well of him that it appeared to smooth some of the rough edges of his personality. Unfortunately, as people have gotten to know the younger Trumps better, they have revealed themselves to be as rough-edged as dear old Dad. That's particularly true of his namesake, Donald Trump Jr.
For most of the primaries Trump proudly evoked his two older sons when he talked about the Second Amendment, touting their National Rifle Association membership and love of guns. It was a little shocking to see the ghastly pictures of their African big-game kills, including a horrific shot of Donald Jr. holding a severed elephant tail, but they otherwise seemed to be pretty ordinary hardworking businessmen devoted to their family. For the most part they have kept a low profile, serving as the usual props in a political campaign.
When Donald Jr. spoke to a white-supremacist radio host in March, it set off a few alarm bells, if only because his father's extreme immigration policies had been so ecstatically received by white nationalist groups. But most people chalked it up to inexperience and let it go. Surely Junior wasn't as crudely racist as the old man, who was reported to have a book of Hitler's speeches on his bedside table.
But just a few days later Donald Jr. retweeted a racist science-fiction writer named Theodore Beale, who goes by the handle of "Vox Day," claiming that a famous picture of a Trump supporter giving a Nazi salute was actually a follower of Sen. Bernie Sanders. The apple hasn't fallen far from the tree after all.
At the Republican National Convention in July, all four of Donald Trump's grown kids gave heartfelt speeches about their dad, even as they made clear through their childhood anecdotes that the only time they ever spent with him was at the office. It seemed that Junior in particular had taken a more active role and was seen in a more serious light. People were talking about him as a moderating voice in the campaign.
Right after the convention, however, Donald Jr. let out a deafening dog-whistle that left no doubt as to his understanding of the far right. He went to the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, best remembered as the town where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. But it has special political significance as the site of Ronald Reagan's famous "states' rights" speech in 1980, where he signaled his sympathy for white supremacy by delivering it at the scene of that infamous racist crime. (The man who coined the term "welfare queen" was always a champion dog-whistler.) Trump Jr. went there to represent, and represent he did. When asked what he thought about the Confederate flag he said, “I believe in tradition. I don’t see a lot of the nonsense that’s been created about that.”
Since then it's been revealed that he follows a number of white nationalists on Twitter and has retweeted several, including a psychologist who believes Jews manipulate society. And in the last couple of weeks Don Jr. has let his alt-right freak flag fly.
First Donald Jr. got excited about Hillary Clinton's "deplorable" comment and proudly retweeted a picture with the title "The Deplorables" that has been making the rounds, featuring this father and himself along with Mike Pence, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, right-wing hit man Roger Stone, alt-right leader Milo Yiannopoulos and white supremacist symbol Pepe the Frog. There's no indication that any of them had a problem with that, and a lot of other people found it to be revealing, to say the least.
A couple of days later Trump Jr. stepped in it again, saying the media would be "warming up the gas chamber" for Republicans if they lied and cheated the way Hillary Clinton does. He claimed he was talking about capital punishment, but no American state has used gas as an execution method in recent years, and Donald Jr.'s association with virulent anti-Semites makes that claim ring a little bit hollow.
And then came the Skittles incident. Donald Jr. sent out a deeply offensive tweet with an image of a bowl of Skittles and the words "If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you three would kill you would you take a handful? That's our Syrian refugee problem." It's a terrible metaphor, wrong in every way, and Donald Jr. took some heat for it. But it's yet another window into his association with alt-right white nationalism. That bad metaphor has been around in various forms for a long time. In this country it was usually a bowl of M&Ms representing black people. The people who traffic in this garbage changed it to Skittles because that was the candy Trayvon Martin had bought at a convenience store on the night he was shot dead by vigilante George Zimmerman. Yes, it's that sick.
Donald Jr. didn't just see that disgusting dehumanizing tweet and send it off without thinking. He knew exactly what he was sending out there because he'd said the same thing in an interview the week before to Pittsburgh Tribune reporters and editors: "If we had a bowl of Skittles on this table, and three of the 1,000 in there were poisonous, would you take from the bowl? You wouldn't until you could figure out which ones were bad."
You hear pundits and commentators saying that Donald Trump is sui generis and his phenomenon won't be recreated. They're probably right. But perhaps they are not aware that his son and namesake also has political ambitions, and is essentially a younger and better-looking version of his father with much more hair. If alt-right white nationalism is going to be an ongoing feature of American political life, it has found its figurehead.